Evolve Crisis Management as a Crisis Evolves

Leading your business effectively in a crisis is a difficult exercise. There will be a lot of uncertainty that requires decisive leadership. However, as you emerge and prepare for the new, post-crisis normality, you’ll need to adopt a participative leadership style. You’ll need to show that you value your people and that the future you are building has them at its heart.

What is a crisis?

The coronavirus pandemic of 2020 highlights the nature of a crisis:

  • It’s unexpected

  • It’s disruptive

  • It’s destabilizing

  • It’s sudden, arriving out of nowhere

  • It’s threatening

While all crises adhere to the above characteristics, the cause of a crisis can be very different depending on who the crisis is affecting. A dropped ice cream is a crisis for a toddler. A global pandemic is a crisis for the world economy. The loss of a major customer is a crisis for a business.

For the business, leadership is the key to navigating a crisis effectively and successfully.

The evolution of leadership through a crisis

As you tackle a crisis, how you lead must evolve.

At first, when the crisis hits, your response must be swift and decisive. You’ll need to direct rather than guide. This will help to give your team confidence that you have a plan despite the uncertainty that the crisis has caused. You’ll need to address the uncertainly and maintain ‘business as usual’.

You’ll be faced with many challenges as you lead your business through the crisis. These include:

  • The need to stabilize the business, and to do so quickly

  • How best to collaborate with your employees and customers

  • Dealing with the unfolding uncertainty and its impact on individuals, teams, and the internal and external environment

  • Remaining true to your principles, values, and purpose

People’s initial reaction to a crisis is to focus on their basic needs, as described by Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Their concern will be to focus on food, shelter, and security. Your initial response should help to calm their fears and maintain their confidence that your business will continue to provide for their basic needs.

From this point, initial response evolves into recovery from the crisis and then creation of a new future. It is in these phases of crisis management that you’ll need to adopt a participative leadership style.

What is participative leadership?

In participative leadership, you encourage all members of your team to become involved in decision making. This helps to create collective goals and plans, bringing greater acceptance of actions, improving morale, and encouraging creative solutions.

How to employ participative leadership in crisis recovery

As you begin to emerge from the crisis, the stability you have created by your response will lead people to seek delivery of their psychological needs. They’ll want to feel as if they belong to something and that they are accomplishing in their jobs and careers.

You’ll need to decide how you want to shape the new normal and help your people through the inevitable period of change. Remember, your people will still be experiencing hurt and confusion, but they will also want more control over their individual and collective identities.

At this stage, employees will smart at being dictated to. The time for authoritative leadership is now past. Instead, evolve your leadership style to one of consultation:

  • Ask your people for their opinions

  • Consider feedback

  • Provide a choice of solution/action

  • Remember that you are the ultimate decision maker

For example, you may present two alternative actions to your team and ask for their feedback on which they believe will be best. This involves them in the decision-making process while ensuring that they are not overwhelmed or that their confidence in you as a leader is undermined.

How to employ participative leadership in the creation of a new future

As the immediate impact of the crisis continues to subside and stability is replaced by recovery, your crisis management will evolve into the final stage – creating a new future.

It is now that you can bring your people fully into the decision-making process. Encourage them to present their ideas, voice their opinions, and listen to and act on their feedback. This joint decision making helps people to create a future in which they can achieve their full potential in a business that has faced the challenges of its crisis and emerged fitter, stronger, and more capable than before.

Here’s what I know

During my years as an entrepreneur and a business leader, I’ve faced many crises. Some were internal while others, like coronavirus, have been external. Whatever the circumstance and situation, it’s crucial to lead from the front and take the decisive action that is necessary to stabilize. Only from a stable foundation can you grow again.

I’ve also learned that people want more than a job. They want to do well in a business in which they feel valued and in which their voice is heard. If you allow them to be, your people are innovative, creative, and problem solvers. The natural human instinct is to do things as easily as possible – it’s why we invent.

Participative leadership lets you guide your people in a business that they help to create – and people don’t destroy what they create. They look after it, value it, and build on it.

As we emerge from the coronavirus crisis, how do you plan to recover and grow your business? Is there something that you could be doing differently? What are your biggest challenges going forward?

Let me know in the comments below – and I’ll address them either directly or in a future article.


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